Monday, 28 March 2011

Green Eggs and Ham (Peaches, Cream and Pink Pancakes)

These 'eggs' look disgusting, don't they? My daughter loved them, and I very much enjoyed making her this literary breakfast.

Green Eggs and Ham is my favourite Dr Seuss book, and I've always wanted to make a dish of this most special delicacy for my kids.

Green Eggs and Ham
Green Eggs and Ham
According to Publishers Weekly, Green Eggs and Ham is the fourth-bestselling English-language children's novel of all time, and anyone who read it as a child will understand why.

How to make the green eggs was simple enough, but I puzzled over the ham. I didn't want real ham, of course, because nothing in this dish is what it appears to be. In the end, the solution was simple: I made up a batch of pancake mix and added a drop of red food colouring.

(But I kept back a little of the pancake mix to drizzle alongside the poured 'hamcakes' to make the fatty edgings).

To get a suitably revolting green tint on the tinned cling peaches (the yolks), I diluted some food colouring with water and soaked the fruit halves in it overnight.

 Then I drained the peach halves well on kitchen paper and arranged them on beds of whipped cream.  The cinnamon sprinkled around the edges is supposed to look like the crisp edges of the egg white, but of course as the cream started to spread the effect wore off.

Here are some of my other recipes for children:

Glitter Pizzas

Pretty Little Individual Tuna Salads for Children


Bunny and Turtle Flapjacks for kids


Quick, thick chicken soup for kids


Cheesy Tuna and Sweetcorn Lunchbox Muffins


Perfect Microwave Popcorn


Magic Marbled Microwave 'Meringues'
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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Fresh Plum Jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping

A barely set, sharp-sweet jelly made with fresh plums, topped with a creamy panna cotta mixture. This is a grown-up version of that most beloved and comforting of childhood puds, red jelly and ice cream, and I came up with the recipe because I couldn't think of what else to do with the bulging bag of ripe plums I hauled home last week.

Plum jelly
Fresh Plum Jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping
Plums are reaching the end of their season in South Africa and are very good and sweet, not to mention cheap.

Every year I make the same mistake of falling into a swoon when I see plums piled in shining pyramids in my local shop, and I buy far more than my family is ever likely to eat. That's why there are plenty of recipes for plums on this blog (I've listed them at the end of this post, in case you too are faced with a mountain of plums that need to be eaten right away.)

The jelly had a lovely deep plummy taste, but my family felt that the vanilla seeds in the panna cotta overwhelmed the delicate jelly. I quite liked the combination, but because I've learned to listen to my family's (usually constructive) criticism of my recipes, I've left the vanilla pod out of the recipe below and instead added a strip of lemon zest to the panna cotta mixture. If you'd like to use vanilla anyway, omit the lemon strip and add a whole vanilla pod, halved lengthways, to the milk and cream mixture.

The plum pulp is not used in the jelly; I suggest you put it in the fridge to add to a smoothie, or whizz it up in a blender and pour it over ice cream. You can, if you like, add a few whole spices to the plums as they cook - a small stick of cinnamon, perhaps, and a clove and star anise - but what I wanted was a blast of pure plumminess with no interfering perfumes.

How much sugar you add to the plums depends on how sweet they are to begin with. I recommend that you start with three-quarters of a cup, then taste the syrup and add more if you think it needs it.  Measure the gelatine powder exactly, using level teaspoons.  For best results, start the jelly the day before.

This is pretty served in long-stemmed wine or martini glasses. Don't be tempted to put this in a jelly mould, as the recipe doesn't contain enough gelatine for the mixtures to hold their shapes when unmoulded. (You could add more gelatine, I suppose, but you'd run the risk of ending up with a nasty bouncy texture.)

Fresh Plum Jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping 

For the jelly:
12 ripe, juicy red plums
¾ cup (180 ml) water
¾ cup (180 ml) white sugar
a thumb-length strip of lemon zest, white pith removed
2 ¼ tsp (11.25 ml) gelatine powder
3 T (45 ml) tepid water

For the panna cotta topping:
300 ml whole milk
300 ml cream
5 T (75 ml) caster sugar
a thumb-length strip of lemon zest, white pith removed
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) gelatine powder
2 T (30 ml) tepid water

Rinse the plums, cut them in half and put them in a large saucepan (no need to remove the pips). Add the water, sugar and lemon zest. Bring gently to the boil, stirring now and again to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture boils, turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the plums are just starting to collapse. Lightly break up the plums, using the back of a spoon, but don't mash them. Turn off the heat and set aside  for a few hours, preferably overnight. This will allow time for the deep red pigment in the plum skins to colour the syrup.

Line a large sieve or colander with a piece of cheesecloth (or a clean dishcloth, or some thick kitchen paper) and place it over a bowl. Tip the plums and their juice into the sieve and allow the juice to drip through into the bowl below.  Don't press down on the pulp or it will become rather cloudy. Discard the pulp, pips and lemon zest.

Measure out a cup and half (375 ml) of the plum syrup. Put the tepid water into a teacup or ramekin, sprinkle the gelatine powder over the top and set aside to sponge for five minutes. Place in a pan of simmering water - the water should come half-way up the sides of the teacup - and leave until the gelatine has melted and the liquid is clear (about three minutes). Remove the teacup from the pan and allow to cool for a few minutes. Stir the gelatine into the plum syrup. Divide the mixture between four wine glasses and refrigerate until set (about three hours).

In the meantime, make the topping. Put the milk, cream and caster sugar into a saucepan and add the strip of lemon zest. Turn on the heat and bring very gently up to just below boiling point, stirring now and then to help the sugar dissolve. When you see the mixture begin to seethe in a threatening way, remove from the heat and set aside for half an hour so that the flavour of the lemon can infuse (cover the surface of the mixture with a piece of clingfilm to prevent a skin forming).

Prepare the gelatine and water for the panna cotta as described above.

Stir the warm gelatine liquid into the the cream/milk mixture (discard the lemon zest). Strain the mixture through a sieve over the cold plum jelly. Refrigerate for another three hours, or until the topping has set to a lovely wobble.

I dusted a little pearl powder (similar to cake glitter, and available from baking shops) over the surface of the panna cotta, and I would have added a few little silver balls, if I'd had them.

Serves 4.

More of my recipes using fresh plums:

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish

Spiced Plums with Tamarind

Christmassy Plum and Tamarind Sauce

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Dragon Fruit on Fan-Rib Skewers

With its blazing pink skin and strange lime-green scales, a dragon fruit looks rather like a prehistoric pod, or the egg of an alien from a far-flung galaxy.  I was intrigued to find dragon fruit, which I have never seen, let alone tasted, at my local Fruit and Veg city last week, so I bought two to take home and show my family.



I've used the bamboo 'ribs' from an inexpensive Chinese fan
 as skewers for the dragon fruit triangles.

The fruit caused a minor sensation, and my kids were particularly intrigued by the cool white flesh of the fruit, which is peppered with black seeds and encircled by an inner band of glowing - almost fluorescent -  fuschia pink.

This tropical beauty, Google tells me, is the fruit of a climbing cactus native to South America (Hylocereus species), and is also known as a pitaya and a strawberry pear.  There are several varieties, including one with vivid pink flesh, and they are cultivated chiefly in Central and South America, and also in parts of Asia such as Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. It has beautiful white flowers that bloom at night and are pollinated by bats and moths.

It's just as well that this is such a flamboyant-looking fruit, because it doesn't really have a blow-your-skirt up flavour. It tastes a little like watery green melon and kiwi fruit, and to my palate has an ever-so-slightly saline aftertaste. Various dragon fruit sites on the Net tell me it's refreshing (and pretty!) in a fruit salad, or served on its own, in chunks, between courses. It's also used in smoothies and sorbets, and as a medicinal drink. It should be served very cold, and is apparently delicious eaten straight from the freezer.

I wouldn't do anything else with dragon fruit but serve it as a novelty (it's perfect for a children's party). The delicate wooden skewers in the photograph above are the ribs from a paper fan I bought at my local Chinese market. I know it may seem wasteful to tear up a fan just for its ribs, but I buy these fans by the dozen, for around R5 each.

Chill the fruit very well before you cut it up, slice it into discs about a centimetre thick, and then cut each disc into six or eight.  Push the skewers through the skin (you may need to make a little cut if the skin is tough) and serve with a spritz of lemon juice.

Please note that the skin of the dragon fruit is not normally eaten (although it's not poisonous) and that I've left it on in the photographs because it's just so pretty. Having said that, I ate the skin, and suffered no ill effects.


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Monday, 14 March 2011

Onion and Blue Cheese Tart

I'd like to have put the word 'winning' in the title of this recipe, but I was just pipped to the post by my friend Matt Allison, whose Onion and Biltong Tart walked off with top honours at the recent Ommiberg Onion Tart Cook Off. I couldn't begrudge Matt his win: his choice of biltong was inspired, and he magicked up a very fine tart indeed, as did the other competitors, my pals and fellow food bloggers Jessica Ulyate and Linda Harding.
Onion tartsClockwise, from top left: Matt's Onion and Biltong Tart, Jessica's Onion and Pear Tart, Linda's Onion and Confit Pork Tart, my Onion and Blue Cheese Tart
Cooking under pressure, and in public, was something I'd never tried before, and I enjoyed every minute of it, except when a TV cameraman poked his lens into my face (a stomach-churning moment for a camera-phobe like me). Quite by chance, the cameraman in question turned out to be an old and dear friend, musician Carl Raubenheimer, so as you can imagine I did not hold back on threats and insults.

This is how the cook-off worked: we were given a pre-cooked pastry shell,  and some basic ingredients - eggs, milk, onion and Cheddar - and asked to choose (in advance) our own secret ingredients.

Onion tarts
Food bloggers: (left to right:) Jessica Ulyate, Linda Harding and Matt Allison, with one of the judges, chef Neill Anthony, at the back.
Before I settled on blue cheese, I tried out various secret ingredients (by making a big batch of filling, dividing it between six ramekins and adding a different ingredient to each). The six 'candidates' were smoked Franschhoek trout, Boursin garlic and herb cheese, blue cheese, roast chicken and marinated artichoke hearts. After a taste test, and input from my husband and son, blue cheese came out tops (with Boursin a close second).

Then I tried three blue cheeses: first a pungent Roquefort, then a squashy Italian gorgonzola, and finally Fairview's Blue Tower, which had the right balance of pungency and creaminess. As I tested the recipe,  I also juggled the proportion of milk to egg to get just the right creamy 'set'. (In an nutshell: four eggs to 125 ml milk.)

I also wanted my tart to deliver a Full-Monty onion experience, so I used the onions in different ways:  finely chopped and slowly seethed in olive oil (for the filling); thinly sliced and caramelised in butter (for the topping). For punch, I added a tablespoon or so of  raw onion juice.

Onion tarts
Chef Neill Anthony, one of the judges, paying serious attention to a slice of tart
We were restricted to just one secret ingredient, but if we had not been, I would have added fresh thyme to the mixture, and topped the tart with a sprinkling of poppy seeds. I would also have added a little fresh cream to the egg mixture. (If you'd like to do the same, use a tablespoon - 15 ml - chopped fresh thyme leaves, and substitute half the milk for single cream).

Make sure the blue cheese is very cold, or it will not grate well.

My thanks to Rhebokskloof wine estate, Ommiberg Wine Festival, Neill Anthony, and Illanda Smit of Erica Meles PR, and also to Fairview and Yuppiechef for some lovely prizes.

Note: I'm not sponsored by Fairview; I just like their cheese!

Onion and Blue Cheese Tart

For the pastry shell:
250 g white flour
a pinch of salt
150 g cold butter, cubed
2 egg yolks

For the filling:
4 medium onions, peeled
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
4 T (60 ml) butter
4 large free-range eggs
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar (loosely packed into the cup measure)
1 cup (250 ml) grated mild blue cheese (loosely packed)
salt and milled black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180° C. To make the pastry shell, sift the flour into a bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (Or blitz in a food processor fitted with a metal blade). Now stir in the egg yolks, and combine to form a stiffish dough. (Add a few drops of iced water if the mixture seems too stiff). Put the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes, then roll out and use it to line a greased 23-cm quiche or flan dish. (Click here for my top tips for making pastry.)

Prick the bottom of the pastry shell all over and bake blind. Set aside to cool.

(Alternatively, if you're feeling lazy and don't mind a slightly soggy crust, simply press the pastry across the bottom and up the sides of the dish, using your fingertips, and then add the filling).

Now make the filling. Finely chop two of the onions. Heat one tablespoon (15 ml) of the olive oil and 2 T (30 ml) of the butter in a frying pan. Add the finely chopped onions to the pan, toss to coat, cover with a circle of baking paper (or the paper wrapping from a butter block) and gently sweat the onions for 10-12 minutes, or until tender. Tip onto a plate and allow to cool.

While the onions are sweating, put the eggs and the milk into a mixing bowl and, using a wire whisk, beat well for one minute. Add the grated Cheddar and blue cheese.

Grate a third of one of the remaining onions. Place the pulp in a sieve over the mixing bowl and press down hard to extract a teaspoon or two of raw onion juice. Discard the grated pulp.

Very finely slice the remaining onions into paper-thin rings (use a mandolin, if you have one). Heat the remaining oil and butter in the frying pan, add the onion rings and cook, stirring often, over a brisk heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the rings are golden brown and caramelised. Watch them like a hawk, as they burn quickly.

Tip the cooled, sweated onions into the egg mixture. Give the egg mixture another quick whisk, season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour into the prepared pastry case. Arrange the fried onion rings on top. Bake at 180° C for 30-40 minutes, or until puffed and golden. The centre of the tart should have a very slight wobble.

Serve hot or warm, with a green salad.

Makes one 23-cm tart; serves 6-8

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Friday, 4 March 2011

Onion Tart Cook-Off: I take on two talented South African food bloggers

My hungry VelvetI've never cooked in front of an audience in my life, let alone given a demo of any sort.

Actually, that's not quite true, because sometimes a small crowd gathers in the kitchen an hour or two after the sun goes down. A crowd of seven, usually, comprising my husband, our three children, our cat Alice, and the two queens of our household, the bassets Velvet and Akamaru.

The latter few in this list are the most attentive. The basset hounds watch my every move while their tongues and ears fall floppily to the floor. Alice flicks her tail and glares at me with her moon-size topaz eyes.  Others (the humans) stand around the kitchen counter rudely drumming their fingers.

So this isn't exactly what I'd call an appreciative audience.

My fortunes are about to change, though, because I've been invited to compete in a real cook-off, in front of a proper audience. The challenge is to make and bake an onion tart - using my choice of secret ingredient - for Paarl's Ommiberg Festival on 12 March 2011; the cook-off will take place at Rhebokskloof Estate.

Linda Harding of The Squashed TomatoI'll be pitted against two clever Cape Town food bloggers I've recently met: Matt Allison of I'm No Jamie Oliver, and Linda Harding of The Squashed Tomato.

I'm nervous, to be honest. Both Matt and Linda are somewhat younger than I am (which counts in my favour, I reckon, when one takes into account actual hours spent sweating at the kitchen coal face) but they are also smart, talented and rather scarily motivated (which definitely counts against me, a middle-aged couch-loller of note).

But, then again, I'm glad that these new friends will be my companions on the day.

I don't know Linda well -  I met her for the first time only a fortnight ago, at the South African Food and Wine Bloggers' Indaba - but I'm a big fan of her blog and her beautiful food and photographs, and she's earned many brownie points in my Little Secret Brownie-Point Book by regularly posting encouraging comments on my blog. (See how easy it is to make me happy?).  She's a livewire, Linda is, and  I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.

Matt AllisonAnd as for Matt? We struck up a cyber-friendship last year, after he emailed me about his blog. (Or I emailed him about mine: I can't remember.) After a few months of the usual Twitter and Facebook banter, we met, and now I'm lucky to count him as a friend.

Matt Allison is one of those slappable people who can do everything well. He's a qualified sound engineer, a gardener, a cook, an environmental activist, a designer, a stay-at-home dad and - as I recently discovered, when he performed a few dizzyingly beautiful songs at the Food Bloggers' Indaba - an award-winning musician, singer and songwriter.

So this is what I'm up against. Wish me luck, will you?

I'll be cooking the best onion quiche in my repertoire, and I hope you'll follow the festivities on Twitter on Saturday 12 March 2011 (look for @ommiberg, and the hashtag #mytart).

Here are more details about the event, and about how you can win some nice prizes, and possibly a place as a 'wild card' entry in the cook-off, by nominating a winning secret ingredient.

Press release from Ommiberg: 

A fluent food blogger can use more than onions to make an opponent cry. Armed with secret plans and taunting tweets, four food bloggers are pre-heating the oven for the Ommiberg Onion Tart Cook-off, set to take place at Rhebokskloof, 2pm, as part of the Ommiberg ‘Round the Rock’ Festival, March 12th, 2011.

Three well-known and vibrant food bloggers and a wild-card entry will compete to make the best Zweibelk├╝chen (onion tart) using only a provided list of ingredients, a recipe – which they may choose not to use – and a secret ingredient of their own. It’s votes that count at the end of the bake, from a panel of judges including the chef and the team at Rhebokskloof, the Ommiberg CEO, two members of the public, and as many of the tweeters and Facebook users as the participants can persuade.

The three food bloggers are:
Matt AllisonMatt Alison of I’m no Jamie Oliver
- “@Jane_Anne62 @squashed_tom all I’m saying is less time on Twitter, more time in the kitchen. @OmmiBerg #mytart”
Jane-Anne HobbsJane-Anne Hobbs of
Scrumptious South Africa
- “They have no idea who they are dealing with. *evil snicker* @squashed_tom @imnojamieoliver @ommiberg #mytart”
Linda HardingLinda Harding of The Squashed Tomato
- “@imnojamieoliver Practising is for amateurs. Prepare for certain annihilation! Hahahahaha (evil laugh again) #mytart @OmmiBerg”
Who will the wild card be?

The public is invited to suggest their ‘secret’ ingredient on Twitter or Facebook. The most creative and delectable sounding suggestion will win the originator the (perhaps daunting) prize of competing against the three foodies listed above.

If you’re up for it, tweet your suggestion, including the term @OmmiBerg #mytart; or post your idea on the Ommiberg Facebook page.

Honour, glory, and the chance to gloat could be yours! And of course the prize – a voucher to use with Yuppiechef, wine tasting with the Windmeul winemaker and tickets to the Nia Nel concert.

For more information, contact Ilanda@melespr.co.za.


Text and images supplied by Ilanda of Meles PR.
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